Sunday, July 04, 2004

In America

...Internally, it’s a pretty free society. And there is a lot of protection of civil liberties that doesn’t come from the government; it comes from the population. There’s a deeply rooted tradition by now and they’re not going to give it up. Furthermore, civil liberties are protected by the rich and the powerful, because they benefit from them. They do not want the state to be powerful enough to carry out actions against citizens that could harm them. They want a compliant state, not a powerful state.

So a more developed form of state capitalism will tend to have civil libertarian protections. And they have these gains like freedom of speech, which is very well protected in the United States by comparative standards. That’s not a gift; it’s not in the Constitution; it’s not in the Bill of Rights, contrary to what they may teach you in school. Didn’t say anything about freedom of speech. Those were rights that were won by giving meaning to the First Amendment through struggle. In fact, it was pretty recent.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that the United States crossed the main barrier, which has not been passed by any other country to my knowledge, and eliminated--the Supreme Court eliminated--the rule of the law of seditious libel--the law that says that you can’t assault the state in words. Even if what you say is true, you can’t defame state authority, [that’s] seditious libel. As far as I know, every other country still has those restrictions, including England. But they were overcome finally in the United States in 1964, and that was in the course of the civil rights movement. It grew out of the civil rights protest. That’s the way these rights were established and pretty firmly rooted.

There is an attempt to undermine them, you’re right, but, frankly, I don’t think it’s going to get very far.

- Noam Chomsky, responding in a Q&A session in India

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